By Ben Golliver
The Maloof family has officially reached a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle-based investment group, according to multiple reports on Sunday.
ESPN.com reported that the Seattle group, headed by Valiant Capital’s Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, will purchase 65 percent of the Kings, a controlling interest, from the Maloofs and a minority owner, and that NBA teams were "formally notified" of the purchase agreement's terms on Sunday. Those terms included a $525 million "valuation" of the franchise.
The Sacramento Bee also reported Sunday that the Maloofs and the Seattle group have "reached an agreement" to sell the Kings and that a formal public announcement of the deal could come "as early as Monday."
Eric Rose, a spokesperson for the Maloofs, declined comment.
"While I am sensitive to the important role of the news media, we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the future of the Kings," he said.
Any prospective sale of an NBA franchise is subject to ratification by the league's Board of Governors. The franchise also faces a March 1 deadline to apply for relocation to Seattle for the 2013-14 season. Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday that the NBA's relocation committee would "overwhelmingly ratify" the franchise's planned move to Seattle. The Kings are expected to take on the name of the SuperSonics, who played in Seattle from 1967-68 until 2008, when they were relocated to Oklahoma City and renamed the Thunder. Plans for constructing a new arena in Seattle are underway; the franchise would play in KeyArena until the new arena is complete.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has pledged to fight to keep the Kings in his city and NBA commissioner David Stern has said that Johnson will be given the opportunity to make his case in front of the Board of Governors.
Johnson issued a statement on Sunday.
"Sacramento has proven that it is a strong NBA market with a fan base that year in and year out has demonstrated a commitment to the Kings by selling out 19 of 27 seasons in a Top 20 market and owning two of the longest sellout streaks in NBA history. When it comes to keeping the team in our community, Sacramento is playing to win. In particular, we have been focused like a laser on identifying an ownership group that will both have the financial resources desired by the NBA and the vision to make the Kings the NBA equivalent of what the Green Bay Packers have been in the NFL."
Forbes valued the Kings franchise at $300 million in January 2012. The Kings franchise moved to Sacramento from Kansas City in 1985 and the Maloof family took majority control of the franchise in 1999.
Reigning NBA MVP LeBron James expressed astonishment on Twitter at the franchise's reported sale price: "So the Kings getting sold for [$525 million]!! And the owners ain't making no money huh? What the hell we have a [lockout] for. Get the hell out of here."
In a recent ESPN.com radio interview, Stern sounded optimistic that an NBA franchise would return to Seattle.
"There's so much activity now in Seattle," he said. "There's a plan for a building, land has been acquired, reviews are being undertaken. I think a predicate for a team is a building. I think those plans are underway. I think the answer to your question is yeah. I think there will be a team in Seattle again and I hope there will be."
The Maloof family has endured years of financial struggles and was forced to sell a vast majority of its stake in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and its beer distributorship in New Mexico. The family pursued relocation efforts to Anaheim and Virginia Beach and, back in February 2012, Stern, the Maloofs and the city of Sacramento, represented by Johnson, announced a tentative agreement to finance a new stadium. That deal fell apart by April, though, and Stern appeared to wash his hands of the matter during a press conference at the 2012 NBA Finals in June, saying he wouldn’t speculate about the future of the Kings other than the fact that a move to Anaheim wouldn’t be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors.
During his annual preseason conference call on Oct. 25, Stern offered Kings fans no assurances, merely lip service.
“There are many people who appreciate the fact that Sacramento was, is, and can be a first class NBA city,” he said. “It is true that it needs a new building. We have our differences of opinions with all of our owners, and in this case with the Maloofs on some of the issues that have gone down here. But my advice to Sacramento is to continue the enormous support that you have shown for the team, and we’ll see what the next steps turn out to be.”
In a 2011 interview on an ESPN.com podcast, Stern mentioned the SuperSonics’ departure from Seattle as one of his regrets, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
“My regrets are that we didn’t do a -- weren’t able to do a better job of getting a building moved along so that we could have kept a team there.”
“I have regrets about both Vancouver and Seattle,” Stern said. “I think [Seattle is] a very prime city for an NBA franchise.”
“But our goal here is to keep all of our teams where they are,” Stern said, “but recognizing that that hasn’t been a goal that we have successfully achieved in the past.”
Kings fans have organized large-scale efforts to spur local offers that would keep the franchise in Sacramento. Those efforts have apparently been in vain. The Kings are scheduled to play a game on Monday in New Orleans. Their next home game is scheduled for Wednesday against the Suns.